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when Trescot arrived at Charleston, December 5, he found that no postponement of the convention to March 4 was now possible.'

December 8 came a visit from the five Carolina members of Congress to reiterate and reimpress upon the president the views of the cabal. The president requested a written statement, and their letter, handed to the president December 10, stated the strong convictions of the signers that there would be no attack previous to the action of the convention, adding what could only be construed as a pronounced threat, "provided that no re-enforcements shall be sent." The commissioners stated later that "The impression made upon us was that the President was wavering and had not decided what course he would pursue. The president objected to the word "provided," and made an indorsement of his objection upon the original paper -"as this might be construed into an agreement which I never would make. They said nothing was further from their intention. They did not so understand it and I should not so consider it." "


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Whatever the president's real views, and it was clearly not his intention absolutely to bind himself, the five South Carolina gentlemen at least satisfied themselves that no change was intended. “One of the delegation, just before leaving the room, remarked, 'Mr. President, you are determined to let things remain as they are, and not to send re-enCrawford, Fort Sumter, 34. 2 Curtis, Buchanan, II., 377.

forcements; but suppose that you were hereafter to change your policy for any reason, what then?'. . . 'Then,' said the president, 'I would first return you this paper.

999 1

We have here a full conspiracy: the hesitation of Floyd, whose logic was stronger than his principles; the anxiety of Trescot, assistant secretary of state, lest the forts should escape final seizure, and the assumed fear of mob action, though it would plainly put his state irretrievably in the wrong; the active support of Thompson, secretary of the interior; the concoction of the letter of November 26 to Governor Gist, of South Carolina, urging action upon the lines suggested; the governor's reply, November 29, which, of course, was shown Mr. Buchanan, and an offer of the same date from the South Carolina governor to Trescot to act as confidential agent of his state at Washington; the call of the five members, December 8, to impress, as though independently, these views upon the president. The plan was completely successful, and the passive attitude now taken by the president was adhered to until he had a cabinet which compelled him to a change of opinion.

The immediate result was the resignation of Secretary Cass, in a letter of December 12, upon the ground of the refusal of the president to send reinforcements and a ship of war to aid in the defence of the forts. The president, in his reply, said: 1 War Records, Serial No. 1, p. 126

"Your remarks upon the subject were heard by myself and the cabinet, . . . but they failed to convince us of the necessity and propriety, under existing circumstances, of adopting such a measure. The Secretaries of War and of the Navy, through whom the orders must have been issued to reinforce the forts, did not concur in your views; and whilst the whole responsibility for the refusal rested upon myself, they were the members of the cabinet more directly interested.” 1

The remark last quoted is a fit index of the flaccid character which found drifting so much more comfortable than stemming the tide. Had Mr. Buchanan at this time refused to listen to the noisy clamor of South Carolina regarding the forts; had he held firm; had he shaken off the malign influence of Trescot; had he refused to receive the selfappointed delegation of South-Carolinians on the subject of reinforcements; had he, in a word, proceeded to do his simple duty of retaining the control of the property of the Union, the sentiment of Stephens and hundreds of thousands in the South like him might have been solidified, and matters would have had another course.

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The president had appealed, November 17, to his attorney-general, Jeremiah Black, of Pennsylvania, a strong Unionist and a lawyer and judge of great distinction, for an opinion on the following points:

1. Whether in case of conflict between the au1 Curtis, Buchanan, II., 398.


thorities of a state and those of the United States there could be any doubt whether the laws of the Federal government are supreme? 2. The president's power to collect duties where the revenue laws are resisted by a force which drives the collector from the custom-house. 3. What right existed to defend public property if assaulted? 4. What legal means existed for executing United States laws usually administered through courts and their officers? 5. Can a military force be used for any purpose whatever under the acts of 1795 and 1807, within the limits of a state where there are no judges, marshal, or other civil officers?

The second and third questions were, for the practical purposes of the moment, first in importance, and to these Black, November 20, gave replies which had no uncertainty. In his opinion the president could collect the duties anywhere within the port of entry, ashore or afloat. "Your right to take such measures as may seem to be necessary for the protection of the public property is very clear." He went further, saying, "The right of defending the public property includes also the right of recapture after it has been unlawfully taken by another." Whatever exception may be taken to the opinions expressed by Black in the latter part of his paper, in which he drew a distinction between the right of the general government to repel a direct and positive aggression upon its property or its officers and what he called "an offensive war to

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punish the people for the political misdeeds of their State government or to enforce an acknowledgment that the Government of the United States is supreme," it is clear that there was force enough in the principles just quoted to enable Buchanan to act with a vigor equal to that of Jackson and to bring to his support every loyal man, North and South. He would not only have been within his right as president, but it would have been an acceptance of one of the soundest of principles-to do that which your enemy most wished you should not do; but there was on his part no intention of action; "not in my time; not in my time," was his thought and expression."

The weak, gelatinous state of mind of the president, and of the cabinet as a whole, brings out one of the great weaknesses of American government procedure―viz., the delay in bringing the newly elected authorities to power. Four long months were still to pass the country practically without a government in the most serious period of its existence. The whole tendency of officialdom" on the eve of surrendering its power to new authorities is to maintain the status quo. It requires an unusual initiative, boldness, and decision developed by the habit of command to accept the responsibility which Jackson took and Taylor was ready to take,

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1 Cf. Curtis, Buchanan, II., 319–324.

2 Speech of Henry Winter Davis, National Intelligencer, February 8, 1861.


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